4 talent management keys to ZOO Group’s successful growth

A focused talent management strategy based on four key pillars has been critical to the growth and expansion of international creative agency group ZOO Group, according to its founder, Pawl Cubbin

A focused talent management strategy based on four key pillars has been critical to the growth and expansion of international creative agency group, ZOO Group, according to its founder, Pawl Cubbin.

The group’s broader strategy is to attract the best talent, but this takes more than just offering a good salary, said Cubbin, who explained that ZOO Group’s talent management strategy is holistic but focused on four key points:

1. Use recruiters.
“Choose recruiters who understand what you’re trying to do and are enthusiastic about it; this means they will headhunt more effectively for you to find potential prospects who may not be actively looking for new opportunities,” said Cubbin.

2. Sell them the vision.
People like to feel like they are part of something, that they aren’t just working for nothing, he said. “Give them something to inspire them, but make sure it’s authentic; no one will buy a pipe dream,” said Cubbin.

3. Challenge people.
“The people I attract are currently at the top of their game and are looking for the opportunity to grow and be challenged more,” he said.

“Most people want to do meaningful work that challenges and inspires them. Days are long when you don’t like what you do, but they are short when you love what you do.”

4. It’s not always about skills.
“Yes, it’s great to have very talented and experienced staff, but cultural fit is an important element that you should not ignore,” said Cubbin.

“You can have people who are the best at what they do and have great experience but perhaps they don’t fit with the rest of your team.

“That’s going to greatly impact the culture of your business and ultimately it won’t be sustainable,” said Cubbin, who explained that cultural fit and work ethic are equally as important as talent and experience.

“Give them something to inspire them, but make sure it’s authentic; no one will buy a pipe dream”

Founded in 2010, ZOO Group is an international group of creative agencies (with up to 50 people in each agency) with one brand, one culture, and a clear vision that sets it apart from both ‘independents’ and ‘multinationals’ – but combines the best of both, said Cubbin.

With a strong financial backing and a well-developed business strategy, ZOO Group is set to expand to 10 agencies in seven countries in the next five years, and its aim is to be in the top five creative agencies in each market it operates in over the next 3-5 years.

“Because our business model is truly entrepreneurial, we are very confident because it focuses on the right outcomes,” said Cubbin, who said the business’ broader strategy was based on three key principles.

1. Focus on talent management.
“With more senior staff able to produce great work from the get go, you gain momentum much faster as your reputation for great work grows, attracting more clients and people who want to work for you,” he said.

2. Make it as easy as possible for talented people to do great work.
“I’ve eliminated and streamlined as many administrative processes as I can,” he said.

“I’ve kept my agency teams purposely small so there is more collaboration and less administration, which leads to better work.

“I’ve made a very purposeful, structured approach to eliminate time intensive processes, like timesheets, given my teams freedom over working hours and I’ve given options for workspaces – whatever I can do to make it easier for my team to produce great work.”

Traditional businesses, such as those in advertising, law and accounting, run on a time management model, however, Cubbin said high quality project management is completely different.

3. Find the new better.
“This is intrinsically embedded in our business,” he said.

“We are always considering how we can find a better of doing things, do better work, serve our customers better, build a better business, etc. It is the cornerstone of how our business has grown and continues to grow.”

“If there’s people in my team that can’t or won’t change or grow with the business, that will hurt them and the business”

In discussing talent management and the successful growth of the business, he said that it was important to stretch people, but ultimately not them beyond their limits.

“These days being in business requires you to change and evolve faster. If you don’t have the right people in the right positions, you will break them,” he said.

“If there’s people in my team that can’t or won’t change or grow with the business, that will hurt them and the business. You have to look out for their best interests as well as your own.”

Cubbin said it was sometimes necessary to say goodbye to long-serving, loyal employees in order for the business to grow.

For HR professional in medium-sized businesses, a common reality is dealing with legacy employees from when the business was established or just starting out.

While these employees tend to be very loyal, Cubbin said they can also have a narrow skill set, be resistant to change and not be aligned with the future plans of the company.

However, as a business grows and evolves it requires more specialised skills in certain areas, like HR.

For instance, an admin person may have done the bulk of the HR administration at the start, but as the business matures he said it may be that a professional HR expert comes on to manage the increased level of employees and HR duties.

Cubbin said he had to let go of employees who were pivotal at one stage of the business but as the company grew, no longer fulfilled their role.

“Our HR approach has been one that recognises what people are and aren’t good at,” he said.

“Every team is constructed around one or two individuals, and knowing what’s missing is therefore key to building a dynamic team.

“The people that are the best at building teams are incredibly self-aware and know where their weaknesses are and how to plug people in around them,” he explained.

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